Roberts traces the whale oil rumor back to a book titled The Whale: in search of the giants of the sea, by Philip Hoare. Whale oil was used as a cheap illuminant, though it gave off a strong odor when burnt and was not very popular. With the widespread use of whale oil during this time, whaling was also at its peak, with thousands of sailors employed in hunting whales for their blubber. Spermaceti (from Greek sperma meaning "seed", and ceti, the genitive form of "whale") is a waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale (and, in smaller quantities, in the oils of other whales). In the early 19th century, a typical American household might contain several items manufactured from whale products , such as candles or corsets made with whalebone stays. Fast forward to the future and whale oil is still being used to lubricate spacecraft such as the Hubble space telescope and the Voyager space probe. Whale oil was once regularly used for many applications, including in the automotive field. This organ may contain as much as 1,900 litres (500 US gal) of spermaceti. The Whale Oil Trade, 1750–1775. General Motors takes up whale oil . Whale oil is oil made from the boiled blubber of whales. F ROM the earliest days of Massachusetts’ commerce overseas, the products of whales were recognized as articles of value. Oil obtained from a whale’s blubber has been used for both lighting and lubricating purposes, and the bones of the whale were used to make a variety of useful products. Immediately after the Civil War, in 1866, the price was $80/barrel, or more than $1200 per barrel today. And as time passed, new uses were found for the arcane commodity of whale oil in the post-modern world. A few of the uses of sperm whale oil over the years were as follows: illuminant (lamps) including railroad signal lamps until replaced by Galena Signal Oil from a Franklin, Pa., refinery : candles (first made from sperm head oil in 1750+ in Newport by Jacob Rodriguez Rivera) Soon the U.S. rock oil industry boomed as whale oil increased in price owing to the growing scarcity of that mammal. Burning fluid known as camphine was the dominant replacement for whale oil until the arrival of … The byproducts of whale-oil refinement also made their way into soap. While modern-day transmissions use a lot of synthetic oils, whale oil used to be the fluid that kept automatic transmissions running. It was widely used during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was replaced in the late 19th century by cheaper, more efficient, and longer-lasting kerosene. When I started searching around, I also found it here, in what looks like a freelance piece by Mr. Hoare in The Independent. 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